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And now for today’s chapter…
“Mummy, please… Please, mummy, please, please…” the little girl who looked to be either six or seven whined at the harassed-looking woman, who seemed more interested in whatever she was rummaging through her bag for than in her daughter’s pleas.
“No, Remi, we’ve talked about this –” she said distractedly as she rooted around in her large handbag, while slowing her steps as the two advanced into the luxurious milieu of The Palms.
“But mummy, please, we are here, please, I want to go and see him, please…” Remi bounced on her feet, her purpose very apparent.
“Remi, no,” her mother said firmly as she reemerged from the bag, her fist clenched over what she’d been looking for. “We’re just here to buy some things and then, we’re out of here and back home. Perhaps we’ll come back another time.”
“But there won’t be another time.” The girl stopped to stamp her right foot petulantly on the ground. Her small features constricted as she squeezed her face and opened her mouth to begin belting out the opening strains of her crying.
“Will you shut up your mouth!” her mother instantly rounded on her, the whiplash that was her voice snapping off the bawling like a plumber plugging the source of an irritating leaky faucet. “I do not want to hear pim from your mouth this afternoon, do you hear me? There will be no Father Christmas for you today, and that is final. And keep this up” – she wagged a rebuking forefinger in her daughter’s face – “and there won’t ever be until next Christmas, is that clear?”
It evidently wasn’t. The leaky faucet waited. The moment her mother grabbed at her left hand and turned to join the melee of shoppers and revelers milling about, the little girl, clearly too distraught over the prospect of not seeing Father Christmas to heed her mother’s warning, ground her right fist to her eyes and gave free rein to her distress.
“Here you go!” someone announced, startling Cordelia around from her observance of the six-or-seven-year-old girl’s tantrum to face her. The young woman who had walked up to her was slender, with ebony skin, long braids hanging down her back in a ponytail, and a hand she held outstretched to Cordelia, which held a small bowl of ice cream. “One French vanilla Coldstone ice cream for you and one Strawberry flavour with coconut gratings for me.”
Cordelia accepted the bowl from her, and watched her dip a plastic spoon into the tasty-looking mound on her own bowl and scoop ice cream to her mouth. Her mouth moved rhythmically over the offering and her eyelids fluttered shut in apparent bliss. “Ah, if I were as rich as Dangote, I’d hire my own personal Coldstone Creamery team to go with me to every field assignment I get sent to.”
“If you were rich as Dangote, you wouldn’t have to get sent anywhere,” Cordelia rejoined, before proceeding to dig into her ice cream bowl.
“Good point,” the other woman said as they turned and began walking through the human traffic of the mall. “This is the one delight about Lagos that I really look forward to whenever I have to wrap up yet another field work and get ready to come home.”
Cordelia looked askance at her companion. She was Bridget, the public health worker who was her flat-mate. There was something Cordelia found incredibly simplified about what she’d just said. Looking forward to ice cream upon the completion of an official obligation seemed far removed from most of the concerns that were expected to plague the lives of most people.
Those concerns that seemed to lately plague her own life.
Something constricted inside her ribcage as the image of a face, the sound of a laugh and the impression of skin against skin flitted through her mind. The imprint was so startling in its suddenness and realness that she drew a sharp inhalation while looking wildly around, half expecting the crowd to part and favour her with a glimpse of him right here in the mall.
“Are you okay, hon?”
Cordelia expelled a shuddering breath, before turning to Bridget, nodding as she dipped her spoon into her ice cream. “Mmhmm, it’s just – I think I just got brain-freeze for a moment there.”
“Oh honey, when you get brain-freeze from Coldstone ice cream, you embrace it and thank the gods for yet another man-made wonder.”
A short laugh gusted from Cordelia at that. “You’re not a correct somborri, aswear. I don’t have to take ice cream ingestion advice from an addict biko.”
Bridget gave her a look of exaggerated affront. “I am so not an addict. I believe in evenly spreading out all my pleasures. Like how I can enjoy a cup of ice cream while ogling all the fine, fine people in The Palms.” She moved a sweeping glance around her.
“Fine, fine men, you mean?”
“If it’s all the same to you,” Bridget retorted. Both women laughed. “Do you ever wonder at what the blessings of living on this side of Lagos are?”
“I have a few thoughts, but I have a feeling you have a very original idea,” Cordelia said, chuckling.
“Oh yes! The greatest blessing is the fact that moneyed people live here, and moneyed people are beautiful people. And beautiful people –”
“Men,” Cordelia interjected.
“Beautiful men are the reason why coming to a place like The Palms is such a divine experience.” Her gaze crawled over the faces of the people moving about them. “Look at that guy for example” – she jerked her head in the direction of a well-built, dreadlocked man standing before a shop window and peering at the mannequin on the other side – “doesn’t he just give you Jason Momoa vibes?” She gave a small shudder of exaggerated delight.
“Who is Jason Momoa?”
“That guy that acted Conan the Barbarian nau,” Bridget replied.
“Oh, him.” Cordelia shrugged. “Well, dreads don’t really do it for me in men. So” – she eyed the man – “I’ll pass.”
“What about that other guy?” Bridget pointed at slightly paunchy man whose dimpled smile seemed to be keeping his two female companions enraptured.
Cordelia made a face. “He needs to start working out ASAP.”
“And him?” Bridget gestured toward yet another passerby whose tank top stretched snugly over his brawny frame.
“Oh my God, way too much muscles.” When she noticed her flat-mate eyeing her, the thought that she might have failed some experiment went through her mind. “What?”
“You just made my point.”
“I feared as much. What was the point?”
“Dreadlocks don’t do it for you? He needs to work out? He is too muscular?” Bridget flicked her fingers up one after the other to tick off each statement. “This is clearly about Philip and how none of these guys measure up to him physically.”
Something tightened behind her breastbone at the mention of his name.
“Not measure,” she demurred. “Saying that implies that I’m comparing them to him. And I’m not.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes,” Cordelia said with more conviction than she felt. Had she?
Bridget sighed. “You know why I’m so concerned about this? You maintain every day since your breakup that you are fine without Philip, that you are moving on. It’s like you’re determined to give off the impression that you’re fine, even if it’s just been about two weeks since you broke up with the man you’d shared seven months of your life with. No one moves on that fast, Lea. Certainly not in two weeks.”
“I am fine, Bridge. Really, I’m fine. And I certainly am not trying to prove anything. I’m fine, totally fine.”
“Anymore ‘fines’ and you might actually rid the English Language of the word.”
Cordelia chuckled. “Stop it joor. I am –”
“Fine, yea, so you keep saying. And yet, I keep looking around for my friend, the funky, fun Cordelia, and I can’t find her.”
“But I’m here, am I not? We’re out together, sightseeing, getting a feel for the holidays.”
Bridget shook her head. “And we came here in a taxi.”
For a moment, Cordelia looked blankly at her. Then comprehension dawned and she said around a laugh, “Come on, Bridge. How many times have I asked you to join me on my bike for any outing we’re to take together? And every time I’ve asked, you have always said no.”
“But you ask, Lea. You always tease me by asking whenever we’re about to go out together, even though you know I’ll say no. Today, you never did.”
“That doesn’t prove anything.”
“You don’t even accept invitations to things you usually enjoy.”
“Last week, Jide invited you to Terra Kulture for a literary night, and you told him you were already going out that evening.”
Jide was a neighbour; he lived in the flat next to theirs, and had an unceasing amorous interest in Cordelia. He’d had to shelve his affections during the months she’d been dating Philip. But his interest had picked up when he met Cordelia in the stairwell a fortnight ago, asked her about the fight he’d overheard her having with Philip the evening before, and she’d flippantly said, “Oh that? That’s not happening anymore.”
“To be honest,” Cordelia said in response to Bridget, “I can’t remember what I was doing that evening. I’m sure it was something important.”
“It wasn’t. You were in your room reading all evening.”
“Bridge, Jide is a sweet guy, and I have no doubt that whatever it is he does at the bank he works in, he does very well. But what he doesn’t need is to spend an evening with me, getting encouraged over something that just won’t happen between us.”
“Or perhaps it is you who doesn’t need an evening with him being reminded of how much you miss Philip.”
Cordelia opened her mouth to refute that, and then shut it when she realized she couldn’t.
She missed him.
That was an unassailable truth. The ache of longing to be with him echoed through the very marrow of her bones. It was like the chill wind of the Harmattan – which had come early this year – trapped in the chambers of her heart. These days, all she had to do was close her eyes and let her mind fill with his voice. She’d hear him teasing her like he was just a few feet away from her; and her mind would fill with witty retorts he could now not hear. Several times in the past weeks, she had involuntarily picked up her phone and began composing a text she’d send to him, a digital expression of her remorse. And at some point, reacting to a mixture of inexplicable guilt and fierce determination to get over him, she’d stop typing and tap repeatedly on the backspace button until every word of the text was deleted. She had firmly stayed away from the social media since that night he walked out on her, because her accounts were littered with ample photographic evidence of the happiness she’d known and shared with him. Everything about that woman who was almost always gazing lovingly up at the gorgeous man beside her felt like red hot coal placed in her chest; it glowed and burnt her at the same time and did not cool quickly like a piece of coal in water.
Bridget’s heavy sigh drew her from her reverie. “You’ve got it bad, huh girl?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said with grim purpose.
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. That you’ll get fine without him, when everyone and his grandmother can see that you two should be together.”
Cordelia forced her lips into what she hoped passed for a jaunty smile. “What are you now, warming up to write a Mills and Boon novel?”
Bridget laughed heartily at that, unwittingly falling for Cordelia’s tactic of changing the subject. “Who knows,” she said shrugging, “maybe I’ll just keep that as an aside for when all these field work becomes a bore.” They were walking past a corridor that veered off leftward. Etched on the wall at the beginning of the corridor was a sign that indicated that it led to the convenience. “Babe, I have to ease myself,” Bridget said. She started off toward the corridor.
“You’re just going to take your ice cream and enter there, eh?” Cordelia called after her.
“The alternative is to leave it with you, and I don’t trust you,” Bridget returned over her shoulder.
Cordelia laughed softly in response. However, the humour faded quickly away. As she watched Bridget walk away from her, a faint sense of desperation began to swirl inside her. She didn’t want to be on her own at the moment; alone, she didn’t have the power to keep Philip away from her mind. His voice… His smile… His laugh… His touch –
As a matter of principle, you have to shut him out!
She groaned. She started to look around for something to distract her from dwelling too much on the man she loved and had lost, when a small bundle rocketing from a corner rammed straight into her. She lurched backward, but held her ground. She looked down at the child who’d just run into her, and felt fleeting irritation at the parents who couldn’t keep their wards in check whenever they came out with them in public places.
And then, her irritation vanished when the girl drew back from her and looked ready to take off again.
“Remi…” she called.
The girl stilled and looked warily up at her. She was a beautiful child, Cordelia could see that, with the barest hint of high cheekbones and thick lashes that now stood out in spikes from the moistness dribbling from her eyes.
“What is wrong?” Cordelia said, leaning forward until she had dropped to the level of the girl’s height. “And where’s your mummy?”
“How do you know my name?”
“I – uh, I’m a friend of your mummy. Where is she?” Cordelia craned her neck this way and that for any sight of the harried woman she’d seen with the girl several moments ago.
“My mummy is wicked,” Remi mumbled, rumpling her face into an expression of sullenness.
“Oh I’m sure your mummy is not wicked,” Cordelia said with a chuckle, returning her attention to the girl. “Whatever mummy did, I’m sure she has good reason for doing so.”
“She say she wee not take me to see Father Christmas!” Remi burst out, clearly desperate to get this ‘friend of mummy’ on her side. “All my friends are going, and she say she wee not take me! It’s just small, I just want to see Father Christmas small before we go! But she say no!” Her thin chest heaved and she squeezed her eyes shut, opening only when a tear was ready to slip out and down her face.
“Okay, Remi, just listen to me,” Cordelia began gently. “Mummy always knows best, you should know that first and foremost. And whenever she decides something, you have to try and understand that it is for your own good. And when you can’t see how it’s for your own good, understand then that perhaps she’s occupied with preparing something else for you that shows how much she loves you.”
Now sniffling, the girl stared at her with an impressive concentration of her features. It was almost a comical look and Cordelia chuckled again as she patted her on her shoulder. “You love mummy, don’t you?”
“Mmhmm…” Remi nodded.
“And you want her to be happy, don’t you?”
“Then believe that she also wants you to be happy, even though sometimes, she goes about it in the way you may not understand or approve of.”
And just then, Cordelia’s eyes widened with shock and her next words to the little girl died on her lips. The import of what she’d just been saying hit her hard and had something of the effect of a hammer blow to the chest. For a moment, she could not draw her breath. Oh my God, what am I doing? What have I been doing? How did I not know this before?
“Mummy’s friend, are you okay?” Remi’s voice cut through the maelstrom of thoughts clouding her mind.
Cordelia blinked herself back to focus and gave the girl a wan smile. “Yes. Yes, I am.” She rose to her feet and stretched out a hand to her. “Now, let’s go and find your mo –”
“Remi! Remi – oh my God, Remi! Where are you!” a shriek cut through the air. A moment later, the woman Cordelia recognised from before barreled around the corner her daughter had just taken minutes ago. She careened to a stop when she spotted the stranger holding her daughter’s hand, and Cordelia saw instant apprehension leap into her eyes.
“Mummy!” Remi squealed before pulling away from Cordelia and running to her mother. The woman immediately bundled her up into her arms, while staring with open distrust at Cordelia. Her face buried against her mother’s body, Remi mumbled over and over again, “I’m so sorry, Mummy. I love you, Mummy. I’m so sorry, Mummy! I love you, Mummy…”
“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay,” her mother cooed, while patting her gently on the back. She looked her puzzlement at Cordelia, and Cordelia shrugged.
“She said mummy was wicked, and I simply made her understand that we all love differently,” she said. And I’m sorry, Philip. I’m sorry I never got to appreciate how differently you loved me.
“Thank you,” the mother said, comprehension edging out the distrust from her countenance.
“You’re welcome. I’m Cordelia, by the way. And you have a very lovely daughter.”
“I’m Bisola. And every day I thank God for her. We should all thank God for the beautiful things He sends our way.”
“Yes. Yes, we should,” Cordelia said softly.
“Look, I’m going to take my daughter to go and see the Father Christmas at the other end of the mall –”
“You are?!” Remi’s head shot up, her gaze wide with delight.
“Yes, I am,” her mother concurred with a laugh.
“Can your friend come with us?”
Bisola turned to Cordelia, the invitation clearly extended from her as well.
Cordelia shrugged her acceptance with a grin. “Sure. I mean, I’m supposed to be waiting for my friend. But I’m sure she’ll find me. Let’s go and see Father Christmas.”
Remi squealed with joy as the three of them joined the throng of people moving about the mall.
The saga continues tomorrow on www.wordsarework.com